Japanese Folktales: A Bridge of Magpies

A bridge of Magpies – Warwick Goble [Public domain]

This is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Star Lovers, from a collection by Grace Jones titled, Japanese Fairy Tales.

The Weaving Maiden

It is a love story from the old days of old Japan and tells of the Weaving Maiden who dwelt upon the shore of the Bright River of Heaven.  Her duty was to weave the garments for all of the gods. She took her duty most seriously working tirelessly hour after hour weaving the white cloth for the garments of the gods.  Ream upon ream of cloth lay piled all around her but she never stopped for rest or respite. Instead she spent all her time weaving. You see she was afraid. She was afraid because she had heard this saying,

“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow
And  eternal gloom
Shall fall upon the Weaving Maiden
When she leaves her loom.”

Therefore, she worked every hour, day and night making the clothing for the gods.  In truth, they had clothes to spare. Conversely, in her efforts to clothe them she never took the time to ensure she was clad elegantly as befitted her own status.  Instead she wore an old ill-fitting and worn tunic. She never bothered with the beautiful jewelry her father often lavished upon her either. Instead, she went bare of foot and allowed her hair to stream down over her shoulders and her back.   When she was at work on the loom she just flung it casually over her one shoulder to keep it out of the way.

All her time was taken up with her work and she had never played with the other children of the gods among the stars.  She had never interacted with them at all. She did not love or weep and she did not eat, she was not glad or sorry . She just sat at her loom and shuttle and wove and wove. She wove her very being into the cloth that she was weaving and it came out white.

At last her father noticed her industry and said, “ My daughter, you are working too hard.”

“But it is my duty, father,” she replied.

“Nonsense! You are too young to think of duty,” he replied.

“Father, why are you are displeased with me?” she asked.

“Daughter, are you wood, are you stone, or perhaps a pale flower all alone on the wayside?” he asked.

“Father, you know well I am none of these, therefore why do you ask?” she replied.

“Indeed, you are none of these, therefore, leave your loom and go out and live.  Enjoy yourself and make friends and have fun. Be like others of your own age and live,” he answered.

“Why ever should I be like others!” she asked.

“What,you dare to question me your father? Leave your loom now!”  he said sternly.

But she replied,

“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow
And  eternal gloom …

But her father cut her short saying angrily, “Do not throw that foolish saying at me.  Age-long sorrow has no relevance to us, we are gods!”.

Taking her hand gently, but firmly, he covered over the loom and led her from the room.  He gave her beautiful clothing and made sure her hair was groomed and styled and adorned with jewels and flowers and he gave her wonderful jewelry and gems.  He made her look wonderfully beautiful and the first one to notice her was the Herd Boy of Heaven who looked after the flocks and herds along the banks of the Bright River.  

The Herd Boy of Heaven

The Weaving Maiden was transformed beyond all recognition.  Her lips were red and her eyes were like the stars she now played among.  She sang and danced all day long and made many, many new friends. Instead of spending long hours at the loom alone she played with the children of the Gods.  She danced lightly across the sky in shoes made of silver with the Herd Boy of Heaven and soon they were lovers.  Their laughter resounded through the Heavens and the gods themselves joined in.   For the first time in her life she was enjoying herself and having fun and she had someone she loved who loved her greatly and she was happy.  In her happiness she said,  “No longer will I spend long hours at the loom weaving the clothes of the gods and goddesses.”

She stopped worry about fulfilling her duty and stopped using her loom altogether.

“I have my life to live and will weave no more!” she said to herself and ran to the Herd Boy who held her in his arms, her eyes shining and her face smiling.  From then on she lived her life as she thought she should. But the gods began to run out of new clothes and her father grew angry and said,

“Has my daughter gone mad? Everyone is laughing at her and who will weave the gods new clothes this spring?”

Three times he called his daughter to him and warned her.  Three times she ignored him and the last time she said,

“But father, who was it who stopped me weaving?  Who was it who clad me in fine clothes and jewels and sent me away from my loom?  Father you are the one who opened the door and now neither mortal or god can shut it!”

“You think I cannot stop it?  I will show you what I can do!”   He called the magpies of the earth and they  flocked to him from near and far. Spreading their wings from end to end they formed a fragile bridge spanning the Bright River. With no further discussion he banished the Herd Boy to the far side of the Bright River and he sadly stepped over the fragile bridge.  She wept bitterly as she watched her love cross the frail bridge of magpies. Once he had stepped onto the other side of the Bright River the magpies quickly flew up dispersing to where they had come from. The Weaving Maiden was left standing on the opposite bank with her father unable to follow.

Sorrow

She stood upon the shore holding her arms out to her love on the opposite shore and crying. Throwing herself down on the river bank she sobbed her heart out while the Herd Boy sobbing disconsolately held out his arms to her.  A long time she lay sobbing on the ground until she could cry no more.

At last she rose and returned to her loom and began working away again. After a while she stopped and gazed into space and said,

“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow
And  eternal gloom …”

Putting her head in her hands she wept.  After a while she stopped, straightened her back and said,

“I will not return to what I was. Once I neither loved or wept.  I was neither sorry of happy. Now, I know how to love, now I know how to weep, now I know what happiness is, now am I know sorrow. I will not go back to what I was!”

Taking up the shuttle she laboured diligently as the tears rolled down her face but she continued weaving the clothing of the gods.  Sometimes the cloth came out grey as grief, at other times it came out rosy or gold as in pleasant dreams and the colours change according to her mood.  This new style of clothing pleased the gods and her father was pleased for a change and said,

“I see I have my hardworking and diligent daughter back and you are happy and quiet.”          

But she told him.

“I am not happy and it is the quiet of dark despair.  I am but the most miserable one in Heaven!”

He looked on his daughter and seeing her heart was breaking he regretted what he had done and said, “Truly, I am sorry but what can I now do?”

“Bring back the Herd Boy of the Bright River – give me back my love!”

“I cannot.  What has been done cannot be undone.  He has been banished by a god and it can never be undone.” he told her regretfully.

“This was my fear, I knew it!” she said bitterly.

He thought for a while and then said,

“Yet, there is one thing I can do.  On the seventh day of the seventh moon, from now until eternity, I will summon the magpies from all parts of the earth to the Bright River.  They shall make a bridge with their wings and you may cross lightly over to the other side to be with your love for one day. Then you must return the same way.”

Thereafter, on the seventh day of the seventh moon the magpies of the earth arrive at  the Bright River and make a frail bridge with their wings. Joyful the Weaving Maiden, with shining eyes, her heart fluttering and smiling happily treads lightly across the bridge into the arms of her waiting lover.  To this day this tryst is kept except when the rains come and the river is too swollen and strong for the magpies to make their bridge. In such times the poor lovers must wait until the seventh day, of the seventh moon, comes around once again and pray for:

Clear skies, fair weather,

A bridge of magpies.

© 24/04/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 24th, 2019 zteve t evans

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Japanese Folktales: The Peony Lantern – A Ghost Tale

The Peony Lantern – Warwick Goble [Public domain] Source

This work is a retelling of a kaiden, a traditional Japanese ghost story from a collection retold by Grace James titled, Japanese Fairy Tales, and called The Peony Lantern. There are also versions  called Kaidan Botan Dōrō.  In  many ways it is passionate and  romantic yet has more than a hint of horror involving necrophilia while hinting on the consequences of the karma of the two main characters.

The Peony Lantern

It is said that by the strong bond of illusion the living and the dead are bound together. Now, there was a young samurai who lived in Yedo. His name was Hagiwara and he had reached the most honorable rank of hatamoto. He was a very handsome man, very athletic and light on his feet and his good looks made him very popular with the ladies of Yedo.  Some were very open about their affections, while others were more coy and secretive. For his part he gave little of his time and attention to love. Instead he preferred to join other young men in sports and joyous revelries. He would often be seen socializing and having fun with his favorite companions, very much the life and soul of the party.

The Festival of the New Year

When the Festival of the New Year came he was to be found in the company of laughing youths and happy maidens playing the game of battledore and shuttlecock in the streets.  They had roamed far from their own neighborhood to the other side of town to a suburb of quiet streets and large houses that stood in grand gardens.

Hagiwara was good at the game and used his battledore with impressive skill and technique.   However, the wind caught the shuttle after he had hit it taking it way over the heads of the other players and over a bamboo fence and into a garden.  He ran after it but the others cried, “Leave, Hagiwara, let it stay!  We have plenty more shuttlecocks to play with.  Why waste time on that one?”

Hagiwara heard them but answered, “No my friends, that one was special. It was the color of a dove and gilded with gold.  I will soon fetch it!”

“Let it stay!,” they cried, “we have a dozen here that are dove coloured and gilded with gold.  Let it stay!”

Hagiwara stood staring at the garden.  For some reason he felt a very strong need for that particular shuttlecock and did not know why.  Ignoring his friends he quickly climbed the bamboo fence and jumped down into the garden. He had seen exactly where the shuttlecock landed and thought he would be able to retrieve it quickly, but when he went to the spot it was not there.  For some reason he now considered that particular shuttlecock was his most valuable treasure. He searched up and down the garden, pushing aside bushes and plants, but all to no avail. His friends called him again and again but he ignored them and searched feverishly around the garden for the lost shuttlecock.  Again his friends called, but he ignored them and continued searching. Eventually, they wandered off leaving him alone searching the garden.

He continued searching into the evening ignoring the glorious spectacle of the setting sun and as dusk fell gently he suddenly looked up.  To his surprise there was a girl standing a few yards in front of him. Smiling, she motioned with her right hand while in the the palm of her left she held the shuttlecock he had been searching for.  He moved eagerly towards her but she moved back still presenting the shuttlecock to him, but keeping it out of reach, luring him into him into following her. He followed her through the garden and up three stone steps that led into the house.

On one side of the first step a plum tree stood in white blossom and on the third step stood a most beautiful lady.  She was dressed in celebration of the festival in a kimono of patterned turquoise with long ceremonial sleeves that swept the ground  Underneath she wore garments of scarlet and gold and in her hair were pins of coral, tortoiseshell and gold.

O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew

On seeing the the beautiful lady, Hagiwara immediately knelt before her in reverence and adoration touching his forehead to the ground as a sign of respect.  The lady smiled down on him with shining eyes and then spoke softly,  “Welcome, Hagiwara Sama, most noble samurai of the hatamoto.  Please allow me to introduce myself and my handmaiden. My name is O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew and this is O’Yone my handmaiden. She it it is that has brought you to me and I thank her.  Glad am I to see you and happy indeed is this hour!”

Gently raising him she led him into the house and into a room where ten mats were placed upon the floor.  He was then entertained in the traditional manner as the Lady of the Morning Dew danced for him while her handmaiden beat upon a small scarlet and gold drum.  They set the red rice for him to eat and sweet warm wine to drink as was the tradition and he ate all he was given. It was getting late when he had finished and after pleasant conversation he took his leave and as she showed him to the door the Lady of the Morning Dew whispered, “Most honourable Hagiwara, I would be most happy if you came again.”

Hagiwara was  now in high spirits and flippantly laughed, “And what would it be if I did not return?  What is it if I do not come back, what then?”

O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew flinched and then stiffened and her face grew pale and drawn.  She looked him directly in the eye and laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered, “It will be death. Death for you, death for me.  That is the only way!”

Standing next to her O’Yone shuddered and hid her face in her hands.

The Charade

Perplexed and very much disturbed, Hagiwara the samurai went off into the night wandering through the  thick darkness of the sleeping city like a lost ghost, very very afraid.

He wandered long in the pitch black night searching for his home.  It was not until the first grey streaks of dawn broke the darkness that he at last found himself standing before his own door.  Tired and weary he went in and threw himself on his bed and then laughed, “Hah, and I have forgotten my shuttlecock!”

In the morning he sat alone thinking about all that had happened the day before. The morning passed and he sat through the afternoon thinking about it.  Evening began to fall and suddenly he stood up saying, “Surely, it was all a joke played on me by two geisha girls.  They will be laughing at me expecting me to turn up but I will show them.  I will not let them make a fool of me!”

Therefore dressing in his best clothes he went out into the evening to find his friends.  For the next week he spent his time sporting and partying and through all these entertainments he was the loudest, the happiest, the wittiest and the wildest, but he knew things were not right.  At last he said, “Enough, I have had enough!  I am sick and tired of all this charade!”

Fever

Leaving his friends he took to roaming the streets alone.  He wandered from one end of Yedo by day and then back again at night.  He sought out the hidden ways of the city, the lost courtyards, the back alleys and the forgotten paths that ran between the houses, searching,  always searching, for what he did not know.

Yet, he could not find the house and  garden of the Lady of the Morning Dew although his restless spirit searched and searched.  Eventually finding himself outside his own home he went to bed and fell into a sickness. For three moons he ate and drank barely enough to keep himself alive and his body grew weak, pale and thin, like some hungry, restless, wraith. Three moons later during the hot rainy season he left his sickbed and wrapping himself in a light summer robe set out into the city despite the entreaties of his good and faithful servant

“Alas, my master has the fever and it is driving him mad!” wailed the servant.

Hagiwara took no notice and looking straight ahead set out with resolve saying, “Have faith! Have faith! All roads will take me to my true love’s house!”

Eventually he came to a quiet suburb of big houses with gardens and saw before him one with a bamboo fence.  Smiling, Hagiwara quickly climbed the fence and jumped down saying, “Now we shall meet again!”

Hagiwara the samurai stood in shocked silence staring at it.  An old man appeared and asked, “Lord, is there something I can do for you?”

However, he was shocked to find the garden was overgrown and unkempt.  Moss had grown over the steps and the plum tree had lost its white blossom, its green leaves fluttered forlornly in the breeze.   The house was dark, quiet and empty, its shutters closed and an air of melancholy hung over it.

The Lady Has Gone

“I see the white blossom has fallen from the plum tree.  Can you tell me where the Lady of the Morning Dew has gone?”  Hagiwara sadly replied.

“Alas, Lord, the Lady of the Morning Dew has fallen like the blossom of the plum tree.  Six moons ago she was taken by a strange illness that could not be alleviated. She now lies dead in the graveyard on the hillside.   Her faithful handmaiden, O’Yone, would not be parted from her and would not allow her mistress to wander through the land of the dead alone and  so lies with her. It is for their sakes that I still come to this garden and do what I can, though being old now that is but little and now the grass grows over their graves.”

Devastated by the news Hagiwara went home.  He wrote the name of O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, on a piece of white wood and then burned incense before it and placed offerings before it.  He made sure he did everything necessary to pay the proper respects and ensure the well being of her spirit.

The Festival of Bon

The time of the returning souls arrived, the Festival of Bon, that honors the spirits of the dead. People carried lanterns and visited the graves of those deceased.  They brought them presents of flowers and food to show they still cared. The days were hot and on first night of the festival Hagiwara unable to sleep walked alone in his garden. It was cooler than the blazing heat of the day and he was thankful for it.  All was quiet and calm and he was enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was around the hour of the Ox, that he heard the sound of footsteps approach.  It was too dark to see who it was but he could tell there were two different people that he thought were women by the sound of their footsteps. Stepping up to his rose hedge he peered into the darkness to catch sight of who it was approaching.  In the darkness he could make out the figures of two slender women who walked along the lane hand in hand towards him. One held before them on a pole a peony lantern such as those the folk of Yedo used in their traditions to honour the dead and it cast an eerie light around them.  As they approached the lantern was held up to reveal their faces and instantly he recognized them and gave a cry of surprise. The girl holding the peony lantern held it up to light his face

Reunion

“Hagiwara Sama, it is you!  We were told that you were dead.  We have been praying daily for your soul for many moons!” she cried.

“O’Yone, is it really you?” he cried, “and is that truly your mistress, O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, you hold by the hand?”

“Indeed, Lord, is is she who holds my hand,” she replied as they entered the garden, but the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve so that it covered her face.

“How did I ever lose you?” he asked, “How could it have happened?”

“My Lord, we have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill.  We were not allowed to take anything with us and now we have nothing at all. My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,” said the handmaiden.

Hagiwara the samurai gently drew his Lady’s sleeve away from her face but she turned away.

“Oh, Lord, do not look upon me, I am no longer fair,” she sobbed.  Slowly he turned her around and looked into her face and the flame of love leapt in him and swept through him but he never said a word

As he gazed upon her the Lady of the Morning Dew shrank away saying, “Shall I stay, or shall I go?”

“Stay!” he replied without hesitation.

The Green Hill

Just before dawn Hagiwara fell into a deep slumber,  eventually awakening to find himself alone. Quickly dressing he went out and went through the city of Yedo to the place of the Green Hill.  He asked all he met if they knew where the house of the Lady of the Morning Dew was but no one could help him.  He searched everywhere but found no sign or clue as to where it could be. In despair he turned to go home, lamenting bitterly that for the second time he had lost his love.

Miserably he made his way home.  His path took him through the grounds of a temple situated on a green hill.  Walking through he noticed two graves side by side. One was small and hardly noticeable but the other was larģe and grand marked by a solemn monument.  In front of the monument was a peony lantern with a small bunch of peonies tied to. It was similar in fashion to many of those used throughout Yedo during the Festival of Bon in reverence of the dead.

Nevertheless, it caught his eye and he stood and stared.  As if in a dream he heard the words of O’Yone, the handmaiden,

“We have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill.  … My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”

Then he smiled and understood and he went home.  He was greeted by his servant who asked if he was alright.  The samurai tried to reassure him that he was fine emphasizing that he had never been happier.  However, the servant knew his master and knew something was wrong and said to himself, “My master has the mark of death upon him.  If he dies what will happen to me who has served him since he was a child?”

The faithful servant of Hagiwara realized someone was visiting his master in the night and grew afraid.  On the seventh night he spied on his master through a crack in the window shutters and his blood ran cold at what he saw.  His master was in the embrace of a most fearful and terrifying being whose face was the horror of the grave. He was gazing lovingly into its eyes and smiling at the loathsome thing while all the time stroking and caressing its long dark hair  with his hands.

Illusion and Death

Nevertheless, Hagiwara was happy.  Every night the ladies with the peony lantern came to visit him.  Every night for seven nights no matter how wild the weather they came to him in the hour of the Ox.  Every night Hagiwara lay with the Lady of the Morning Dew. Thus, by the strong bond of illusion were the living and dead merged and bound to each other

Just before dawn the fearful thing from the grave and its companion left. The faithful servant, fearing for his master’s soul went to seek the advice of a holy man.  After relating to him all that he had seen he asked, “ Can my master be saved?”

The holy man thought for a moment and then replied,  “Can humans thwart the power of Karma?  There is little hope but we will do what we can.”

With that he instructed the servant in all that he must do.  When he got home his master was out and he hid in his clothes an emblem of the Tathagata and placed them ready for the next morning for him to wear. After this, above all the doors and windows he placed a sacred text.   When his Hagiwara returned late in the evening he was surprised to find he had suddenly become weak and faint. His faithful servant carried him to bed and gently placed a light cover over him as he fell into a deep sleep.

The servant hid himself that he may spy on whatever might come to pass that night.  With the arrival of the hour of the Ox he heard footsteps outside in the lane. They came nearer and nearer and then slowed down and stopped close to the house and he hears a despairing voice say,

Entry is Barred

“Oh, O’Yone, my faithful handmaiden, what is the meaning of this?  The house is all in darkness. Where is my lord?”

“Come away, come away, mistress, let us go back.  I fear his heart has changed towards you,” whispered O’Yone.

“I will not go.  I will not leave until I have seen my love.  You must get me in to see him!” whispered the Lady of the Morning Dew.

“My Lady, we cannot pass into the house – see the sacred writing over the door over the windows, we cannot enter,”  warned the handmaiden.

The Lady wailed and then began sobbing pitifully, “Hagiwara, my lord, I have loved you through ten lifetimes!”  and then footsteps were heard leaving as O’Yone led her weeping mistress away.

It was the same the next night.  At the hour of the Ox, footsteps in the lane were heard and then a long pitiful wail followed by the sound footsteps disappearing back down the lane as the ghosts departed sobbing and crying.

The next day Hagiwara got up, dressed and went out into the city.  While he was out a pickpocket stole the emblem of Tathagata but he did not notice.  When night came he lay awake unable to sleep but his faithful servant, worn out with worry and lack of sleep dozed off.   In the night a heavy rain fell and and washed the sacred text from over the round window of the bedroom

The hour of the Ox crept round and footsteps were heard in the lane and entering the garden.  Hagiwara listened as they came nearer and nearer until they stopped just outside.

The Power of Karma

“Tonight is the last chance, O’Yone.  You must get me inside to my lord, Hagiwara.  Remember the love of ten lifetimes. The power of Karma is great but we must overcome it.  There must be a way you can get me in to see him!” said the Lady mournfully.

Inside Hagiwara heard them and called out, “Come to me my beloved, I await you!”

“We cannot enter. You must let us in!” she cried.

Hagiwara tried to sit up but he could not move.  “Come to me my beloved!” he called again.

“I cannot enter and I am cut in two.  Alas, for the sins of our previous life!” wailed the Lady.

Then, O’Yone grasped the hand of her mistress and pointed at the round window, “See, Lady, the rain has washed away the text!”

Holding hands the two rose gently upwards and passed  like a mist through the round window into the bedroom of the samurai as he called out, “Come to me my beloved!,”

“Verily Lord, verily, I come!” answered the Lady.

The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold.  By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying,  “I cannot bear it.” And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.

The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold.  By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying,  “I cannot bear it.” And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.

© 17/04/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 17th, 2019 zteve t evans

Breton Folktales: The Fortune of Périk Skearn

Image by Judith Leyster [Public domain] – cropped

Presented here is a retelling of a Breton folktale called The Hazel Sceptre from Folk Tales of Brittany, a collection compiled by Elsie Masson [1929]

The Eve of Whitsuntide

Périk Skearn was not a family man having no wife and children.   Sure, he loved the ladies and regularly declared is undying love to  the one on his arm, but the one on his arm was a different one each day and he easily forgot them.   He was one of those bold young men who looked enviously on the rich and privileged as they arrived at church on their fine horses wearing their fine clothes.  He too longed to ride up to the church in stately fashion in a fancy coach and horses and would have loved to have dressed in the fine velvet jackets and silk shirts that the great and the good wore with a pretty lady by his side. He strongly believed that he deserved all these fine things and more and had been born to riches  but somehow someone had switched him into poverty. It rankled with him making him envious and arrogant in his erroneous belief and now he desperately hoped to restore the fortune he believed was his due. So why should the likes of Périk Skearn be alone on the the dunes of Efflam at midnight on the eve of Whitsuntide?

It was the eve of Whitsuntide and Périk Skearn stood alone just before midnight on the dunes of Efflam.  His eyes not looking seaward as one might expect instead staring intently at the huge cliff waiting for Saint Michael’s Church to toll the midnight hour. At such a time most good people are at home in bed safe and secure wrapped up in their loved ones with their children sleeping peacefully close by.

The Beggar of Yar

For all of these selfish reasons and many more he was on the dunes of Efflam impatiently awaiting the tolling of midnight by St Michael’s church bell tower. As he waited he dreamed of gold, fine clothes and beautiful ladies and all the other delights the chosen ones of society enjoyed and believed was his due.  He listened to the waves lapping the shore in the moonlight and let his imagination run riot while thinking about what the old Beggar of Yar had told him.

The Beggar of Yar was the greatest sage in all the land of Brittany renowned for his wisdom and ancient knowledge.  He knew the story of the land and its inhabitants – human and otherwise – from long before the time the first acorns grew into the great hoary oaks of Brittany.

Skearn had gone to see the beggar to ask him how he could get the fortune he believed he deserved.  The Beggar had told him that to get the fortune he deserved he must have a clear idea of what he valued and asked him to think of what that was.  As he thought hard, the Beggar had looked at him intently and told him,

“Under the dunes of St Efflam many, many years ago when Brittany was still young there had been a great city whose wondrous sailors sailed the seven seas trading with ports from many foreign countries and making the king of the town very, very, rich.   

The king had a scepter that was in fact a hazel wand which he used to change everything to be as he pleased.  He used it to make himself richer and more powerful but did nothing to help his poor, suffering, people.

Heaven looked down and saw the people were hungry and lived in poverty while the king languished in luxury and idleness doing nothing to alleviate the suffering of the people.  Three times a message was sent from Heaven warning the king to change his ways. Three times the king ignored it.

No other warning was given and Whitsuntide Eve came and a Divine Command was issued and slowly, surely, irresistibly the sea began to rise.  The people escaped but the king used his hazel wand at the stroke of midnight to make a sanctuary for himself, his followers and his treasure inside the great cliffs.  The treasure was so vast it could not be valued. The king had surrounded himself with beautiful maidens which were said to guard him and his greatest treasure the hazel wand which was placed safely in a special room.”

Skearn listened eagerly to what the old man said.  He cared nothing for the suffering of the people, but his heart was pounding and his head spinning at the thought of such treasure just lying there.  The Beggar continued,

The sea rose and drowned the town and then receded.  Where the town had stood was a great mass of sand that later became known as the dunes of St Efflam.  Every Whitsuntide Eve as the bell of the church of St Michael tolled the first strike of midnight the cliff opens up and a passage into the sanctuary of the king of the drowned city is revealed. Anyone wishing to enter the king’s sanctuary must be bold and he must be quick because on the last stroke of midnight the cliff closes until next Whitsuntide.  There is no other way out and it would be a foolish person indeed who dared to take such a chance of death even for the sake of such treasure.”

The Beggar paused and looked keenly at him and then said,

Périk Skearn, there in the cliffs that overlook the dunes of St Efflam and the sea is where the fortune you believe you deserve lies!

So spoke the Beggar of Yar. That is why Périk Skearn was pacing up and down impatiently on the dunes of Efflam awaiting the first stroke of midnight seeking the fortune the Beggar of Yar had told him he deserved.

The First Stroke of Midnight

As the first stroke of midnight sounded Skearn leapt into action.  The moonlight revealed the great cliff was opening and he now raced into the opening and down the passage it revealed.  Inside the cliff he found the passage was short and he stepped out into a colossal cavern lit by an eerie unknown light.  Inside the cavern was like a beautiful palace but he did not have time to stand in admiration and wonder he had to be quick.

The Third Stroke

Running through the palace door he came to a room that was heaped high with silver coins and items of tremendous value but he only gave a quick glance as he ran through.  Next he came to another room piled high with gold coins and artifacts of all kinds, but these were not his goal and ran into the next room.

In this room were thousands upon thousands of beautiful pearls  in finely wrought caskets. There were necklaces, brooches, rings and all kinds of items that incorporated pearls.  He did not stop to look but ran on into the next room.

The Seventh Stroke

This was filled with caskets of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and precious gem of all kinds.  He was sorely tempted but that was not his goal and he ran into the next room. He was counting the tolls of bell as he ran and he heard the seventh strike and knew he had to quickly reach the hazel scepter which was his main to save himself and ran into the next room.  

To his delight he saw the hazel scepter resting on the wall opposite  but standing before it were one hundred beautiful maidens. With the sceptre he could create anything he wanted.  He could have all the treasure and the beautiful maidens and it was almost within his grasp but he had to reach it!

The Tenth Stroke

Each held out one hand beckoning him while the other offered a gold goblet inviting him to drink a strange liquid that flashed and glittered in the weird light. He was stunned and stood motionless in wonder and the ninth stroke of midnight tolled and he did not hear it  He had resisted silver, gold, pearls and precious gems but now all he could do was stand in wonder and stare because each maiden seemed like his very heart’s desire.  He did not want one he wanted all. They all stood smiling and beckoning to him as he could not make up his mind and the tenth stroke of midnight fell but he did not hear it

The Twelfth Stroke

As the eleventh stroke of midnight fell the maidens closed ranks and prevented him moving towards the hazel scepter and Skearn turned and fled. At the twelfth stroke the maidens turned to stone and as the opening in the cliff crashed shut Périk Skearn stopped in his tracks motionless and with his last dying breath understood that this was the fortune he deserved.

© 10/04/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading


Copyright April 10th, 2019 zteve t evans

Trickster Tales: Soongoora the Hare


This article was first published in Enchanted Conversation Magazine titled Soongoora the Hare: An African Folkltale, on 6th April 2019, written by zteve t evans. 

Soongoora the Hare

Soongoora the Hare was hungry, and wandering through the forest, came across a huge calabash tree. Hearing a strong humming sound, he looked and saw buzzing in and out of large hole in the trunk, many bees.Thinking he would like some honey, he went into town looking for someone to help him.

He met a big rat name Bookoo, who was in fact a very respectable citizen of the town. Smiling, Bookoo invited him to sit down and rest in his house.  Soongoora thanked him, and sitting down sighed,“Sadly, my father has recently passed away and left me in his will, a bee’s nest of honey. Would you like to help me eat it?”

Bookoo loved honey and readily accepted the invitation and accompanied Soongoora to the calabash tree. Soongoora pointed up to the hole where the bees were buzzing in and out and said, “There, we must climb up.”  

First, both cut a bundle of dried grass and climbed up to the hole where they set the grass alight, causing lots of smoke. The bees became too sleepy to bother them, allowing Soongoora and Bookoo to tuck into the honey.

As they were enjoying the feast, out of the forest sauntered Simba the Lion who sat at the bottom of the tree looking up at them and growled, “Who is in my tree, eating my honey, looking down on me while I look up at them?”

Soongoora whispered to Bookoo, “Shhh – keep quiet! He is old and crazy. Keep quiet, and he will go away.”

Simba did not go away and grew angry roaring, “Tell me who you are, now!”

This terrified poor Bookoo who stammered, “It is only us, only us!,”  

Soongoora rolled his eyes and shook his head.  He knew this meant trouble and whispered to his friend,“Wrap the grass around me and shout down that you are going to throw grass down.  Tell him to stand back, well out of the way. Then slowly climb down the tree.”

Bookoo loved honey and readily accepted the invitation and accompanied Soongoora to the calabash tree. Soongoora pointed up to the hole where the bees were buzzing in and out and said, “There, we must climb up.”  

First, both cut a bundle of dried grass and climbed up to the hole where they set the grass alight, causing lots of smoke. The bees became too sleepy to bother them, allowing Soongoora and Bookoo to tuck into the honey.
As they were enjoying the feast, out of the forest sauntered Simba the Lion who sat at the bottom of the tree looking up at them and growled, “Who is in my tree, eating my honey, looking down on me while I look up at them?”

Soongoora whispered to Bookoo, “Shhh – keep quiet! He is old and crazy. Keep quiet, and he will go away.”

Simba did not go away and grew angry roaring, “Tell me who you are, now!”

This terrified poor Bookoo who stammered, “It is only us, only us!,”  

Soongoora rolled his eyes and shook his head.  He knew this meant trouble and whispered to his friend,“Wrap the grass around me and shout down that you are going to throw grass down.  Tell him to stand back, well out of the way. Then slowly climb down the tree.”

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Australian Folktales: How Fire Was Stolen

Image by James Whitley Sayer (1847 – 1914) Public Domain (cropped)

This is a retelling of a folktale from Australia. It gives an explanation of how humans gained the use of fire when Tatkanna, the Australasian robin, stole it from Mar, the red-crested cockatoo, also known as Leadbeater’s cockatoo (Plyctolophus leadbeateri). There is also an explanation as to how the robin got its red breast and why the kookaburra is found in trees. The source of this retelling is from a story called How Fire was Stolen from the Red-Crested Cockatoo from a collection by W. J. Thomas and begins in the Dreamtime.

The Dreamtime

The Dreamtime is sometimes referred to as “the Dreaming”.  In simple terms it is the period of time when the creator-beings made the land and the animals, birds and plants. In that time humans  lived in the shape of beautiful birds and wild animals. One day as sunset neared a family of people were returning to their camp after a day out hunting when they came across a stranger.  He was an ancient looking man and appeared tired and hungry and carried a long spear, a possum skin rug and a dilly bag that was used to carry food.  Laying his spear on the ground as a sign of peace he showed them the inside of his bag which was empty and said,

“Many, many moons ago I left the hunting grounds of my people and went on a great journey.  I traveled across the land until I reached the great waters whose voice is like the rumbling thunder.  I traveled into the grey mist far beyond the mountains to the red rolling plains. In that place there are no birds or animals and the sun is hidden behind dark clouds.  I passed beyond this into the land that is beyond dawn and experienced many strange adventures.

I am old now and my people are gone.  They are blown like dead leaves in the wind and I must seek them out, but before I do I would rest awhile and tell you the secret I have discovered of the fire of the sun.  When I have done this I will go and one of your people who is daring and bold may seek out and bring back this fire to your people.”

The headmen discussed the request from the stranger and agreed to provide him with food and hospitality  in exchange for the tale. They all loved tales so when they reached the camp they quickly prepared a fine communal meal and gave the stranger the best of the food they had.  When they had finished eating they made a semi-circle before him and eagerly waited for him to begin his tale. It should be said that these were the days before people had learnt how to make fire. Furthermore, at this time they had no idea of how to use it to cook with or to harden their spear heads but they could see the sun up in the sky beyond their reach and could  feel its warmth.. They often contemplated how they could get the fire out of the sky and on to Earth for the light, warmth and comfort it brought on cold, days and dark nights. The ancient man wrapped himself in his possum skin rug and began to tell the people if his tale

The Stranger’s Tale

He began,

“I traveled beyond the dawn far into the east and the mountains that blot out the sun.  In that place water had forsaken the creeks and the water holes were dry and animals lay dead in the river beds and death threw its shadow upon the land.  I hurried on without stopping to rest in case death should come upon me.

I traveled on without water and my tongue grew swollen in my mouth and my legs became weak and when I thought I could go no further I saw the gleam in the distance of a water hole.  I ran towards it but fell. I crawled until I reached it but as I drew near blackness like night fell upon me although the sun was still high in the sky and I slept. I was eventually awoken by a loud buzzing noise in my ears like the sound of thousands of flies.  I crawled forward to the water hole and bent my head to drink but my lips only touched hot, dry sand. What I thought had been cool gleaming water had been hot gleaming sand but now I was desperate and I used my hands to dig deep into the sand until they were grazed and bleeding.  Despite the pain, despite the blood I carried on digging and at last the sand grew damp and water began to fill the hole I had dug until at last I had enough to drink. I was exhausted so I rested up for a day and then continued on my way.


One day after many more moons had passed I came to a country of tall trees.  One morning just before before the sun has begun its journey across the sky I was surprised to see its fire gleaming through the mirk of the trees.  Carefully, quietly and with great stealth I crept nearer and then I saw Mar, the Cockatoo. As I watched he reached up into his crest and brought out fire which he used to light a stick to show him the way.  In my surprise and eagerness to see more I stood on a dry twig and he heard it crack and saw me. He was angry and hurled a spear at me so I decided to flee. From there I spent many weary days traveling back to the land of my people hoping to find them but they were gone. I followed their track until I came across you folk. If there is one along you hardy enough and bold enough to face and complete the long arduous journey and daring enough to steal the fire from under the crest of Mar the Cockatoo, then humans will sing their praises for evermore.”

Mar, the Cockatoo

The people sat listening intently to him enthralled by his tale and when he had finished they all became very excited at the possibility of gaining access to fire.  The headmen talked together and agreed on a plan. They would invite the cockatoo to a great dance ceremony and get together they called a corroboree. There would be singing, dancing and mock combat. and while he was relaxed, off his guard and enjoying himself one of them would steal his fire.  

The day came and Mar the Cockatoo came to the corroboree and was enjoying all the singing, dancing and mock fights.  He was very relaxed but gave no opportunity for them to steal the fire. They offered him kangaroo meat to eat but he refused this.  Instead, they offered him kangaroo skin to eat which he accepted but to their consternation left their camp with it and returned the great distance to home.  Despite their efforts Mar had given them no opportunities to steal his fire and now he was gone

Prite

One small fellow named Prite decided to follow the cockatoo. He followed him across the bush and over the mountains for a great distance and grew very tired and thought of turning back for home.  Just as he had made up his mind to return he saw Mar reach under his crest feathers and pull out the fire.

He could not think of a plan to steal the fire so he returned home and told his family that what the ancient stranger man had told them was true.   The headmen discussed the news all through the night ànd finally decided that Tatkanna, the Robin, should follow the directions of Prite to the camp of Mar the cockatoo and steal the fire.

Tatkanna, the Robin

The next morning Tatkanna set out bright and early following the directions Prite had given him to the camp of Mar the Cockatoo.   It was a long tiring journey and luckily he arrived at Mar’s camp just as the cockatoo was reaching under his crest to pull out the fire to light a fire stick.   He then began singeing off all the hair from the kangaroo skin that he had been given.

Tatkanna could not believe his luck in witnessing this and in his eagerness to steal the  fire he edged too close scorching his breast feathers. Ever since then he has had a red breast and known as Robin Redbreast.  However, scorching his feathers frightened him and Mar saw him. Realizing he had been discovered, Tatkanna decided he had to do something quick or fail in his quest, so boldly running forward he grabbed the fire stick from Mar and ran off into the bush.  

As he ran the fire stick caused everything it touched to burst into flames and soon all the dry grass and bushes were burning and even the trees caught light. The animals and birds were all bewildered and frightened and ran off trying to escape. The flames that swept over the dry grass and bush also the consumed trees leaving a smouldering charred black and gray waste land of ash behind

When Mar realized his fire had been stolen he grew very angry and went in search of the thief meaning to kill him.  Tatkanna made it back home and showed the fire stick to his family who were all tremendously pleased and heaped praise upon him.  Then Mar, who had tracked the robin, arrived in their camp and demanded to fight the thief who had stolen his fire.
Tatkanna although very bold and daring was terrified of fighting the cockatoo as he was only a small fellow and begged his friend Quartang the Kookaburra to be his champion. Quartang agreed but Mar quickly defeated him forcing him to escape by flying up into the tree and that is where kookaburras have been since that day

Tatkanna, the Hero

Mar did not get his fire back and sadly returned home but the family of people were all mighty pleased with Tatkanna, the Robin for his bravery and daring. His scorched red breast reminds us of the great deed he did for his family of people.  Now, when they see the red-crested cockatoo they remember how fire was stolen from him for their benefit by Tatkanna, the Robin

© 03/04/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans April 3rd, 2019